The Hill

Biden-GOP infrastructure talks off to rocky start

The Hill logo The Hill 9/04/2021 01:34:27 Alexander Bolton
Joe Biden et al. posing for the camera: Biden-GOP infrastructure talks off to rocky start © Getty ImagesBiden-GOP infrastructure talks off to rocky start

President Biden's bid to secure bipartisan support for his $2.25 infrastructure package is off to a rocky start.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a close Biden ally, says there will be only one month set aside to hammer out a deal with Republicans and right now it's nowhere near to happening.

Biden is already sniping with key moderates such as Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

And Potential Republican partners such as Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) have slammed Biden's proposal for going "far beyond" the traditional definition of infrastructure.

It's not clear how much Biden is really focused on winning GOP support.

In the Senate, Democrats are expected to use budgetary rules that would allow them to move the package with no Republican votes. Under budget reconciliation rules, the package could avoid a Senate filibuster.

That's how Biden won quick approval of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package without any GOP support.

The White House has also been talking up the idea that if the infrastructure package has support from Republicans in polls, it can be described as bipartisan even if GOP lawmakers don't back it.

Republicans say they can see the writing on the wall.

"It's clear the Biden administration is looking to put points on the board immediately and create momentum and a sense of inevitability regarding its legislative accomplishments," said Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist and former leadership aide. "The only way to do that in this type of gridlock atmosphere is to go through the reconciliation process and railroad Republicans."

"Legislation governed by consensus is going to take time," he added. "Biden has very strong credibility with the American people right now. His polling is very high. He doesn't feel the need to create room for Republicans at this point in time because it's not affecting his standing nationwide.

"We're likely going to continue to see a pattern like this going forward," he predicted.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is predicting Biden's Build Back Better plan won't pick up any GOP support, a view shared by senior aides to other GOP senators.

This puts the spotlight back on Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), the most important swing vote in the Democratic caucus.

Democrats will have to win Manchin's support if they want to move legislation through the Senate without GOP support, since they then could not afford to lose a single Democratic vote.

Manchin in an op-ed published by The Washington Post on Wednesday raised concern about plans to move Biden's infrastructure agenda through the budget reconciliation process, and urged his party to work with the GOP.

"We should all be alarmed at how the budget reconciliation process is being used by both parties to stifle debate around the major issues facing our country," he wrote.

Senate Democratic aides and strategists privately concede that Biden's infrastructure plan isn't going to pick up any Republican votes. But they say it's important that he make a public effort to reach out to Republicans so that Manchin and other moderates have political cover to vote for a partisan bill.

"Schumer can then say we can work in a bipartisan way but it's Republicans who don't want to," said one Democratic aide, referring to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

"It would be great [to get] something done in a bipartisan way," the aide added, but it became clear to many Democratic senators that the chances of passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill are about nil after not a single Republican in either chamber voted for the COVID-relief plan.

Democrats say they can strengthen their argument to Manchin and other moderates on the fence by bringing other bills with broad public support, such as legislation expanding background checks for gun sales or improving U.S. competitiveness with China, to the Senate floor.

Even those popular bills face an uncertain prospect of picking the 10 Republican votes needed to get by a filibuster. If they fail to get enough GOP support to pass, it will bolster Schumer's argument that Democrats need to unify and pass Biden's infrastructure plan by a simple majority vote under budget reconciliation, aides and strategists say.

"There's nothing that gets enough Republicans and Democrats to pass on these big questions," said a Senate Democratic strategist, who said a bill addressing the growing threat posed by China probably has the best chance of getting 60 votes in the Senate, though that legislation still needs to be crafted.

The strategist added that Biden doesn't need to dramatically slim his infrastructure proposal to please Republicans because his approval numbers remain strong and polls show strong support for a large infrastructure initiative.

"The calculation Republicans are going to have to start making is looking at Biden's poll numbers. Their attacks don't seem to be sticking. They don't seem to be resonating outside of Fox News," the strategist said.

Biden scored a 61-percent job approval rating in an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll published last week. A Reuters-Ipsos poll of 1,005 Americans conducted April 7 and April 8 showed Biden with a 56-percent approval rating.

A Hill-HarrisX poll last month found that 54 percent of registered voters think infrastructure should be a priority and a CNN poll last month found that 61 percent of Americans supported Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

Strong poll numbers appear to have emboldened Biden in his interactions with Republicans, and GOP senators don't appreciate it.

The president and a group of moderate Republicans traded fire Wednesday when Biden criticized the GOP senators for digging in their heels during the pandemic relief talks earlier this year.

"I would've been prepared to compromise, but they didn't. They didn't move an inch. Not an inch," he told reporters.

That elicited a testy response from the 10 senators who met with him at the White House on Feb. 1 to explore the possibility of a compromise on COVID-19 relief.

"The administration roundly dismissed our effort as wholly inadequate in order to justify its go-it-alone strategy," they fired back in a joint statement signed by Sens. Portman, Capito, Collins, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and five others.

Coons, a close Biden ally, say the president will give Republicans until the end of May to agree to a bipartisan infrastructure deal and then move forward, either with or without them.

"I believe that President Biden is open to spending the next month negotiating what the possibility is," Coons told Punchbowl News.

If there's no deal by June, Coons said "Democrats just roll it up into a big package and move it."

Updated 8:12 p.m.

9. huhtikuuta 2021 4:34:27 Categories: The Hill

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